HOUSTON (AP) — A man died by apparent suicide at one of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s family detention centers, according to a legal group that was representing him.
The group, RAICES, did not identify the man, and ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in a statement late Wednesday, RAICES said it was representing the man while he was detained at the Karnes County Residential Center in South Texas.
His death on Wednesday was the ninth to occur in ICE custody since the start of the governmental fiscal year in October, exceeding the eight deaths that occurred in the prior year.
It comes as advocates have called on ICE to reduce its detainee population and its operations to arrest migrants in the U.S. without authorization amid the coronavirus outbreak. ICE said Wednesday that it would scale back enforcement to detain “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”
“We anticipate that this won’t be the last death at Karnes unless ICE immediately releases all those detained at this detention center and in custody around the country,” Lucia Allain, a spokeswoman for RAICES, said in a statement. “A dirty and cramped detention center in the face of a pandemic is unsafe and inhumane.”
In sworn legal declarations the group released Tuesday, two migrants reported getting sick from the drinking water they are provided at Karnes, which had 680 people in detention last week. Another migrant said detainees are denied access to hand sanitizer. They are instead told to use body wash in the showers to clean their hands at all times.
ICE said in a statement that the facility has hand soap dispensers that are checked twice daily and detained migrants are “encouraged” to report any shortages. The agency also said it provides free water, milk, and juice.
Already, illnesses spread quickly in Karnes and other detention centers, said Andrea Meza, director of family detention services for RAICES.
“When you’re there, all the kids are coughing,” she said. “Everybody has a runny nose and a sore throat and diarrhea.”